WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Barack Obama is set to toast the five leaders of Nordic nations at a lavish state dinner at the White House on Friday (May 13), an unusual summit aimed in part at sending a message to a nation not on the guest list: Russia.
Obama will laud the humanitarian and environmental accomplishments of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland, but also wants to talk about how to deal with their increasingly aggressive neighbour Russia ahead of a Nato summit in July.
Obama last met Nordic leaders in Stockholm in 2013 on his way to a G20 summit in St. Petersburg after cancelling a planned bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin because of tensions over Syria and surveillance issues.
Since then, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region, prompting Nordic nations to step up their military cooperation and the United States to boost military spending to help Nato do more to try to deter Russia.
During a recent visit to Europe, Obama sought to reassure allies about the U.S. commitment to the continent, but pushed nations to increase their defence spending and stay united amid the strain of dealing with an influx of migrants fleeing Middle East conflicts.
The leaders will discuss a long-term approach for dealing with refugees, Kupchan said, as well as new contributions to the US-led fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. He declined comment on specific commitments from the meeting.
Typically, the White House rolls out the red carpet for one leader at a time. Friday will be a bit trickier, juggling five guests of honour and their entourages.
The state dinner itself will be in a large tent with a transparent ceiling evoking the northern lights and "shadowy spaces in the arctic night," the White House told reporters.
Guests will sit at long, rustic wooden tables bedecked with columns of ice, fiddlehead ferns, and fragrant hand-rolled beeswax candles, and dine on braised Nebraska beef short ribs, salt-cured Atlantic ahi tuna served in a large ice cube, garnished with radish, lime and jicima and roasted tomatoes with cardamom yogurt and lettuces from White House garden.
For dessert, White House Executive Pastry Chef Susan Morrison created a hand-painted fishing boat made of gum paste and chocolate, topped with the five flags of the Nordic countries and a selection of Nordic-themed pastries.